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April - May 2007

Saving Places

Nyet on Newt

Clear Creek

Feckless Republicans

Two Cheers for Capitalism

Whither Weather Logic?

Butchart at 100

Missouri Breaks

Water on the Brain

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

   Saving Places - A bout with the flu, a week backpacking in the Grand Canyon, and a boat load of grading have kept me relatively idle on the blog front.  Time to jump back in . . .

     In the 1995 General Management Plan, adopted for Grand Canyon, the Park Service planned to demolish the Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges, which are located on the rim of the canyon, between the El Tovar Hotel and the Bright Angel Lodge.  Why?  I suppose the short answer is, "Because they can."  I think, though, that this proposal speaks to a deeper character flaw in the people that run the NPS in general, and the Grand Canyon in particular.  They hate tourists.  They don't want people to go to the Grand Canyon, and, if they must come, they don't want to stay near the rim.  I guess that having people really close to these magnificent views would somehow harm the canyon.

     In the late 1990's, I circulated a flyer around during the Earth Day celebration on the campus of Northern Arizona University, which asked people to write to the superintendent to "Save the Kachina" and to "Save the Thunderbird."  OK, so it was a bit tongue-in-cheek, since the nutjobs that attend these "rallies" are not really interested in development that promotes tourism.

     Thankfully, the park service has been unable to carry through with this part of its plan.  So, the lodges remain.  A few years ago, while the Canyon Forest Village proposal was getting the approval of our county Board of Supervisors, the demise of these lodges was the focus of some attention.  The board decided that 900 rooms, at CFV, was enough, but allowed for the possibility of future expansion, contingent upon the removal of the Kachina and Thunderbird.  Somehow, the notion that tourists should stay overnight 7 miles from the rim, rather than right on the rim, was thought to improve the quality of their visits.  Or, not.

     Last week, there was a "listening session" held at the Museum of Northern Arizona, where local park officials, including the Superintendent from Grand Canyon, would hear what people had to say about the parks.  I wanted to attend, and actually planned on it.  But, the information on the timing of this session was incorrect in the local paper, so, alas, I was unable to go and have my voice heard.  But, I am sure that all the usual suspects (i.e., local activists) did attend.  In a follow-up article on this event, in the local paper, former Grand Canyon resident, Bruce Aiken, made some disparaging remarks about the Kachina and Thunderbird lodges.  So, I thought to pen a quick response, which ran in the paper this past Easter Sunday:

To the editor:

     In a recent article about conditions at the Grand Canyon, a former inner canyon resident is quoted as saying that the Kachina and Thunderbird lodges are “disgusting” and that “nobody likes” them.  I would beg to differ.

     These two lodges are hardly eyesores.  They are nestled between the El Tovar Hotel and the Bright Angel Lodge.  While they do not suffer from an overabundance of architecturally-stimulating features, I would challenge visitors to carefully consider these two structures from a nearby vantage point along the West Rim Drive.  Looking back at the South Rim, with the San Francisco Peaks in the background, you’ll hardly notice these lodges.  Their façade of buff colored stone-like panels make them blend in well with the Kaibab Limestone, the uppermost rock layer of the Grand Canyon.  They do not crowd the rim, unlike the Bright Angel, nor do they dominate a point, like the El Tovar.  Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a better example of “environmental sustainability” in the park.

     I would bet that any visitor, staying at the Yavapai, or the Maswik, or anywhere in Tusayan, would love to trade up to a canyon-side room in either of these two lodges.  With occupancy rates in excess of 90%, it seems that plenty of people like these rooms.

     For years, officials at the park have pursued a policy to demolish these two lodges, to be replaced, not by another El Tovar, but, instead, to be replaced by nothing.  That would be a crime.  A crime not unlike ones committed by the Park Service in the past, like when they destroyed the Grandview and Summit, whose historical relevance was lost on officials that seem driven to deter visitation rather than embrace it.


     In 2018 and 2021, these two lodges will be 50 years old, and may become eligible to become historic sites.  It is not a slam dunk, and it is possible to get on the list earlier, but I will bet that the park service will continue to try to tear down these buildings before they can be officially recognized as part of our history.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

   Nyet on Newt - C-Span aired a debate between Newt Gingrich and John Kerry, last night, on the topic of global warming.  I happened to be clicking through channels, when I saw it, and stayed tuned for a while, thinking it would be a good debate.  Not so.  While I gave it a while, Newt was buying into the idea that we must "do something" about climate change, and argued that the debate should be about whether to use mandated changes, to reduce carbon output, or use market-based incentives.  Yikes!!  So much for him being a suitable opponent in this debate.  I am not ready to concede the point that we must focus our attention on greenhouse gas output.  It seems much more prudent to deal with coping with this climate change, rather than spend billions tens of billions hundreds of billions of dollars trying to "undo" these effects, when the science is mushy, at best.  At worst, the science is being misrepresented to achieve political ends.  An excellent documentary on the topic is The Great Global Warming Swindle, which is currently posted up on Google.  I have seen it a couple of times already, and it does a good job of laying out what the issues are in this debate.  Alas, we can only imagine how this debate would have been more compelling, if Newt had championed reason instead of arguing about what policies make more sense.

     But, something to look forward to - the Pacific Research Institute is releasing a film, this month, titled, "An Inconvenient Truth ... Or Convenient Fiction?"  It sounds interesting and will be on my viewing list.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

   Clear Creek - An acquaintance of mine from the Coconino Astronomical Society, Bill Ferris, was recently smitten by the Grand Canyon bug.  Knowing that I have a lot of experience hiking the canyon, he started asking me about hikes to take.  Last fall, we did a couple of day hikes - down to Plateau Point (on the Bright Angel Trail) and a circumnavigation of Cardenas Butte (on the Tanner Trail).  This spring, Bill got a permit for Clear Creek and graciously invited me along.  The trip was planned for six days and five nights - the first, and last, at the Bright Angel Campground, and the middle three in Clear Creek.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to spend this nice, big, chunk of time in the canyon...

Follow this link and read the full story, and see photos for the Clear Creek hike.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

   Feckless Republicans - As the party of Reagan, the party of "limited government" and the party of free trade, there are plenty of Republicans that disappoint . . .

  Last year, our own Senator Jon Kyl helped to ban internet gaming, making him an enabler of the nanny state and an opponent of freedom and liberty.

  Our other Senator, John McCain was the primary support of recent campaign financing "reforms" that help erode our first amendment rights.  If we believe that money corrupts the political process, and who doesn't, then we need to find ways to reduce the power that politicians have to rule, and ruin, our lives.

  A leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Mitt Romney, has called for energy independence, which is as certain a way to bankrupt our economy and lower our standards of living as is any phony global warming legislation.

  And, in this morning's paper, is a story about how "Republican" state legislator, Marian McClure, wants to ban all "high-interest lenders" in the state.  Curtailing choices for people with bad credit means that they'll get no credit.  That will, inevitably, lead to political pressure to force sound financial institutions to allocate part of their portfolio to "affordable lending," not unlike how we blackmail home builders.

     Feckless Republicans, one and all, and I haven't even mentioned Rudy, nor the governator, nor Dub-ya.  Wherever will we find some conservative politicians that have any philosophical backbone?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

   Two Cheers for Capitalism - You hardly ever see protests in favor of capitalism . . . but, here's one!  At Northern Arizona University's College of Business Administration, two students showed up to protest a speech to be given by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.  [Hmm, they do look vaguely familiar . . . sort of like a couple of my past, or present, students.]  Goddard has been shilling the public a story that he can magically circumvent the laws of supply and demand, by keeping gasoline prices from rising during a supply disruption.  He is, of course, just another horse's . . . well, you can see his avatar below (I couldn't find a better photo that did justice to his particular brand of lunacy).

     The students - Tim and Jason - protested by representing supply and demand.  Their sign reads, "Econ 101 - Profit is not a Crime."  And, at the bottom of the sign, is written, "Quit Pandering On Gas Prices."  Who knows, maybe I'll try to recruit them for a trip to the next WTO meeting, where we can help stage a street march in favor of markets, capitalism, development, rising standards of living, sanity and reason.

     Most of what Goddard does as attorney general is pretty much run-of-the-mill stuff that most people would say is fine.  But, there are some issues . . .

  Gas price gouging.  He has "supported two efforts in the Arizona Legislature to pass anti-price gouging legislation."  Lucky for us, they both went down to defeat.  But, if he becomes governor someday (like, the next election), this issue will likely be further demagogued by him.  While he maintains that "[m]arket forces are not working," he totally misses the point about the role price serves to allocate scarce goods.  So, for that, we bestow upon him a blue ribbon, but he's still a horse's . . . 

  Payday loans.  The issue of high interest rates for these types of loans has been circulating around our state legislature for a while and it seems that no good will come of this.  Placing price ceiling on these businesses will mean that they will impose higher standards on customers, so that those with absolutely awful credit will just be out of luck.  Goddard says that he is "concerned about payday loans and the harm that they cause."  If he cared so much about this issue, he'd start his own lending operation that offered these loans at lower rates of interest.  He could follow the model of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, an economist who founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.  So, while it is clear that Goddard is a hypocrite, I think we can also agree he is a horse's . . .

  Global warming.   Not surprisingly, he is on the whole "global warming" bandwagon.  And, given his own ambitions, this will likely be an on-going crusade for him; one for which we will likely be asked to make great sacrifices all in the name of saving the earth.  He supported Massachusetts in the recent Supreme Court case, where CO2 was determined to be a pollutant - don't gasp, or you'll likely get fined for contributing to man-made global warming!  He argues that the state has "a duty to act to help protect citizens from the potentially devastating impact of climate change."  That presumes that we will be devastated and that we can actually do something to reverse it, assuming that it is going to continue.  I'd love to get into a poker game with him, because, apparently, all he does is bluff a bad hand.  He might win a few pots that way, but he's still a horse's . . .

  Related blog:
Goddard's a Pain in my Gas

  Related link:  Jason posted up a video of the protest on YouTube.

Monday, May 7, 2007

   Whither Weather Logic? - Whenever it is warm, you inevitably will hear some goofball opine that it is a sign of "global warming."  Likewise, whenever it is unusually dry, someone will ascribe it to the evils of mankind in the proliferation of greenhouse gases.  Some years ago, I was at a large round table discussion, hosted by the local paper.  The topic was how well, or poorly, the local paper covers the news.  Somewhere along the way, a guy from the Sierra Club made exactly that absurd remark - how our drought was an indicator of global warming.  How stupid are these people?  Well, the question answers itself.  Even just a couple of weeks ago, a letter ran in the paper wherein the writer claimed to have seen the consequences of global warming where he lived . . . in Canada, or someplace.  As John Stossel would say, "Give me a break!"

     Well, this past Saturday, which, I will remind the casual reader, was May 4th, we receive a decent little snowfall.  And, later in the day, it snowed a couple of times, at least in my neighborhood.  Not enough to accumulate, but, then, again, it is MAY!!  Yet, where are the global warming nuts now?  Why isn't this "evidence", against global warming alarmism, equal to the "evidence" they so blithely pass off every other day of the week?  I guess it's because they aren't really interested in evidence anyway.  They are too busy pursuing their agenda of the destruction of human progress.  [Click on either photo for a larger image.]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

   Butchart at 100 - In the Cline Library, at Northern Arizona University, a special "birthday" remembrance was held for Harvey Butchart, the grand master of hiking the Grand Canyon.  He spent some 1200 days in the canyon, and with my paltry 523, I am unlikely to ever catch up to that record!  The organizers even baked a cake, as you can see.  Alas, except for a late poker game, I would have stayed around to have some.

     The program was a look at Harvey's life, which has just been chronicled in the book Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon's Backcountry.  The authors, Elias Butler and Tom Myers, were also the speakers for this slide show retrospective.  Fascinating stuff, and their book should be available . . . soon, I hope.

      I only met Harvey once, and that was ten years ago, at his 90th birthday party, also held in the Cline Library Auditorium.  I was able to get him to sign my Grand Canyon Treks book, the first of three he wrote, and which I had used rigorously for years.  In retrospect, perhaps I should have asked him to sign the newer edition, which has all three volumes together.

     I did correspond with Harvey, although just briefly.  In the early 1990s, reprints of his 1000+ page journal required his permission, which he kindly granted to me.  I also wrote to him about a house structure in Vishnu canyon.  While doing a Nankoweap to Phantom hike in 1993 (10 days and 9 nights), Neil Jacobs and I were having lunch on the Tonto, overlooking Vishnu, which we had just crossed.  And, there, on a terrace, was the unmistakable sign of a house outline.  I hadn't read of any such structure in Harvey's books, nor journal, so I penned a letter to him soon after the hike was over.  He responded quickly, which was one of his traits, and said that he hadn't seen any such structure in lower Vishnu, but that as much as he had hiked (and, he was done hiking by that time), there were always things you'd miss.

     Well, we will still miss Harvey - he was an inspiration to me, and to many others that have hiked in odd, out of the way places, in the Grand Canyon.

  Related blog:    Remembering George Steck

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Click on (almost) any picture for a larger image.

   Missouri Breaks - A couple of weeks ago, I was able to spend 6 days in, and around, Saint Louis, Missouri, in the middle of my wife's two week stint on a business trip.  While on this trip, I made a number of observations . . .

  Economy parking and luggage  - I haven't used the economy parking lot, at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, in many years.  But, this trip was different.  I found a space in the East lot and waited for the bus.  One family, also waiting, must have had ten pieces of luggage.  What a hassle getting on the shuttle, and, at the terminal, getting off.  Wouldn't it have made better sense to cough up the $3 minimum charge for the parking garage, adjacent to the terminal, in order to transfer the luggage to the ticketing area, and, then, drive the vehicle over to the economy lot?  I would think so!

  The charm and history of Ste. Genevieve  - We spent a weekend in Ste. Genevieve, about 50 miles south of St. Louis.  The town is more than 250 years old, and was a hot spot during the French colonial days.  There are many historic homes here that span a couple of centuries in age, and quite a few were still being lived in some 40-50 years ago!  We stayed in the Main Street Inn B&B.  Included in the room charge was wine tasting at the Charleville Winery Tasting Room, adjacent to us.  The Mississippi has been flooding for a bit, and the local ferry was unavailable for crossing.  I guess this doesn't happen too often, as the owners just posted a hand written sign!

  Wine restrictions do impact others!  - In the wine tasting room, I chatted with Denice about Arizona recently relaxing its prohibition on wine sales, direct to consumers, from out-of-state wineries.  She said that it has made a difference, even to this little winery so far away.  She said that it is quite a hassle trying to figure out to whom they can ship wine to legally.  In fact, they let FedEx figure it out for them!  Something else we learned, while in Ste. Genevieve, was that Missouri was the second largest producer of wine prior to Prohibition.  Then, the vineyards were literally destroyed, and they are still rebuilding this industry!

  Service counts!  - When we were in St. Louis, at the Hilton Hotel, the difference between it and the B&B was . . . palpable.  The service was fabulous in Ste. Genevieve, and practically non-existent in St. Louis.  The B&B owners set out a coffee urn in the morning, so that we could have fresh java before breakfast.  So, why can't the Hilton do the same thing, on each floor of the hotel?  Making coffee in the room is about seventeen grades below fresh brewed.  And, the price of the rooms in the two locales were comparable.

Wine tasting. The Main Street Inn B&B Bequette-Ribault House.
Wine aging at Crown Valley. Vertical timbering. Ice money.


  Private interests can manifest a taste for preservation!  - While the state does chip in to pay expenses for some of the old homes we saw, most lasted for more than one hundred and fifty years because someone found them useful and/or because they just wanted to save them!  What a concept.  We also visited the Crown Valley Winery, where the owner has a private herd of elk, and bison, which are managed for commercial purposes.

  Local currency, of a sort  - We found some coupons on display in the local museum.  They were, essentially, "ice money."  They were used to obtain ice, and, presumably, sold at some kind of discount early in the season (not unlike ski lift season passes).  The booklet reads, "The coupons in this book are not good if detached and are payable only in ice."  For those with an economics background, this deters resale for profit.  Well, you could sell the whole booklet, but not the individual coupons, and it would be mighty tedious to go in with a group to buy, and use, a booklet.

  I y'am what I y'am  - We decided to cross the mighty Mississip at Cape Girardeau, and hit some sites in Illinois, on our way back to St. Louis.  We happened upon Chester, Ill., home of the cartoonist that created Popeye.  And, there was his statue - Popeye's, that is.  Suddenly, I feel like I am on a road trip with Chevy Chase.  Where is the world's largest ball of string?  Right next to Popeye was a warning sign about bootlegging cigarettes - guilty parties face imprisonment, fines and having their cars/trucks seized.  Somehow, it strikes me that Popeye is exactly the kind of "person" you'd expect to buy some bootleg tobacco to fill his pipe!  And, doesn't the fact that arbitrage is profitable indicate that something is wrong with the tax structure here? 

  Meet me in St. Louie  - We reached the 'Gateway to the West' in the early evening and had a chance to stroll along the river.  It seemed odd that stairs led directly off the sidewalk and right into the water.  Then, we saw this odd shape in the water - upon closer inspection it turned out to be the head, arm and hat of a statue!  Aha - we are still looking at river that is well above it's normal flow.  We thought that the statue would be suitably captioned, "Come on in, the water's fine."  Later, we saw a picture of the statue - there is actually another person, and a dog, which were completely covered up by the water.

  Never on a Monday  - On Monday, I decided to do some touring of the area.  One place I wanted to see was Fort de Chartres, initially built by the French in the early 1700s.  I was quite excited when I drove up to the visitor parking and saw only one other vehicle.  But, then I found that it was closed on Mondays!  Whaa??  Who's crazy idea is that.  At least the place was big enough to walk around and look at, but no interpretive materials and the little museum was closed.  At least the privies were open, although, they were mighty dark when the doors were closed.
     This incident was made the worse for the fact that we had thought to stop by here on Sunday, while driving up to St. Louis.  Instead, we visited Fort Kaskaskia, which is not really a fort at all - only some earthen mounds.  But, it is a very nice picnic area, and it does have a few interpretive signs in the area.  Live and learn.  So one hopes!

  Marxism at the Cohokia Mounds   - I did get a chance to visit the Cohokia Mounds.  This is the site of the largest population of Indians, north of Mexico.  About a thousand years ago, there were some 20,000+ people living in this area, east of St. Louis just a few miles (in Illinois).  They built earthen mounds, the largest of which is called Monk's Mound.  At it's base it is larger than the famous pyramids in Egypt and in Mexico.  It must have taken a long time to build, and there are many other, smaller ones.
     There is a fine interpretive center there, and I enjoyed my visit quite a bit.  But, there was one display, which listed various criteria for determining whether a place is really a "city" or not, and then compared how Cohokia stacked up against St. Louis.  The third item in the list was titled, "Surplus Capital."  Ouch!  [Click on the photo to the left to see the entire sign.]  The notion of a "surplus" of capital is strictly Marxist gobbledy-gook.  If you really want to describe any capital above, and beyond, pure subsistence, as a surplus, then the world is rife with such stuff, and has been for a very, very long time.

  Touring downtown St. Louis - I also spent a day in town, and got to visit the Arch, and the museum underneath it.  I did take the egg-shaped tram ride to the top.  Pretty cool stuff, especially with five people in a car, having to keep your head slightly bent over, and with cars that do quite a bit of wobbling about.  The views from the top are stunning, as one would expect.  Later, I walked by the St. Louis Federal Reserve District Bank.  I use their data all the time, but you can't go inside for a tour unless you have a group of fifteen, or more.  It is a funny building, with an entrance that is now only about 20 feet from the next building.

The St. Louis Federal Reserve. The Arch. Downtown St. Louis.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

   Water on the Brain - The Arizona Daily Sun ran an editorial yesterday chastising city officials for overstating our "problem" with water.  Of course, the problem is that the city is the provider and nobody there seems to have a clue about economics.  At issue is that city wells are at/near their capacity.  That may seem scary, but these wells represent slightly less than 60% of our available water supply.  And, current usage is only running at about 53% of available supply (on a daily basis).  To that, the editor wonders, "[W]hy is the city still enforcing automatic watering restrictions?"

     I wish we had a good reason.  Unfortunately, we only have a bad reason - they restrict because they can.  The editorial points out that daily usage has fallen by only 5% to 10% as a result of these restrictions, and, yet, there is no crisis.  This case illustrates how government ignores costs in weighing its decisions.  Instead, someone pops off about "saving water" or "preserving our precious resource," and fails to consider the full benefits and costs.  As to benefits, there apparently aren't any!  At least, that was the conclusion of the editor.

     And, what of costs?  On that score, there are plenty.  If many homeowners are like me, water usage is down, and landscapes are deteriorating, because watering, on the city's schedule, is inconvenient.  I am allowed to water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  If I want to go somewhere for the weekend, I end up with an unwatered lawn for four days.  That turns out not to be very good for the lawn.  Of course, some activists will put on their smug smiles, and cheer on the death of my grass, because they know what is best for me.

     There is much waste associated with a failure to price resources properly.  By properly, I mean according to the relative costs of production and values placed on them by consumers.  Prices reflect the aggregation of our tastes and preferences.  By engaging in non-price allocation (i.e., restricting water usage), it encourages outcomes that are  inefficient, especially relative to the use of our scarce time.

     For example, if I want to go hiking up at the Grand Canyon, on a Tuesday, I can't water on Monday to compensate.  Even though I am not planning on watering any more often than is "allowed" I don't get the choice of picking times that are convenient to me.  Instead, I have to adjust my watering times to fit their schedule, so that they can more easily monitor our usage.  So, while it is least costly to the city to engage in regulations of this type, it is a false economy.  The true, and full, costs are borne by users.  Either I postpone, or cancel, my hiking trip, or I stress out my lawn by skipping a day.

     So, what is the "right" solution?  It is to price the water such that some targeted amount is used.  If we use "too much" then the price should be raised.  If it is set in a graduated manner, then heavy water users will pay more, on a per gallon basis, than light users.  Then, you don't need to police homeowners, and I can water whenever is convenient to me, not whenever is convenient to the city council.

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